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12STORIES by David Moody


July 2023

For a long time this story was called CANNON FODDER, but as it developed, that title began to feel a little off. To my mind, Cannon Fodder describes the sacrifice of people who are sent out to fight when a victory (or even their survival) is against the odds. On this occasion, COLLATERAL DAMAGE is more appropriate because the people here are innocent bystanders, not combatants. Have you ever watched an action movie and thought about the cost of all the explosions, and who the countless, nameless background characters who died were? I have…

Agent Harris wasn’t the Department’s first choice for this mission, but of the three agents sent before him, two are now dead and the other’s in a coma, unlikely to ever regain consciousness. Harris gets things done. Sure, his methods aren’t always legal and above-board, and he’ll take risks and cut corners that others won’t, but he gets results. And by God, if ever His Majesty’s Government needed a result, it’s today.

Maximillian Sharp represents a clear and present danger to the security, safety, and stability of the entire world. He needs to be stopped before it’s too late. If his nefarious plan succeeds, who knows what will happen. One thing’s for sure, life in this green and pleasant land will never be the same again. Intelligence sources suggest that he’s developed an airborne toxin that, if released, will kill billions. And all the indications are that he’s ready to push the button.

Sharp has a brilliant mind, and an impossibly stubborn nature. He eschewed his position of privilege and wealth, turning his back on the establishment that created him in the way all good supervillains seem to do. He pissed on the numerous opportunities and advantages that were presented to him by his parents, sponsors, and tutors, threw their care and charity back in their faces. He became a radical who needs to be stopped. He’s a spoilt kid who threw his toys out of the pram. A spoilt kid who has managed to arm himself with a weapon of mass destruction the likes of which have never before been imagined.

The Department has one final chance to derail the evil mastermind’s plan and stop him achieving his deadly aims. He’s in France this evening for an exchange – a rare public outing. Another agent from the Department – Ivan Sustyn – is here undercover, but his cover’s just been blown. Sharp has reacted in the way he typically does, by carrying out an appalling terror attack in the centre of a densely populated city. The place has gone from calm to chaos in a microsecond. Fires are raging all around, and thousands of people are fleeing in terror, fearing another blast. The evening air is clogged with noxious fumes.

Harris lost contact with Sustyn half an hour ago. He knows someone has ratted him out. Harris has fought his way to the rendezvous point, but he’s too late and he’s just found his colleague bleeding out in a dingy backstreet, lying among rats and split refuse bags, a brutal and most undignified end to a life of dedicated service. With his final words, Sustyn tells Harris everything he’s learnt about the operation. The situation is even worse than anyone imagined.

Harris is forced to leave his friend to die. It’s regrettable, but they both know there’s no other option. If Harris doesn’t act now and end this, Spencer will get away and the next time he attacks, the consequences will be unthinkable.

The city is filled with the walking wounded. Traffic lights blink incessantly, but there’s no traffic moving here, not anymore. Smoke haze drifts across the scene from burning buildings. Harris weaves through the chaos, scouting left and right, looking for that evil bastard Spencer because he knows he’s here somewhere. Psychopaths like him get a kick out of hanging around and soaking up the misery they’ve created. They feed off other people’s terror and desperation. He’ll want to enjoy what he’s done. He’ll want to celebrate it.

The crowd parts momentarily, and Harris turns around when he hears someone whistle and call his name.

There he is.


‘You find your friend?’ Spencer asks, shouting to make himself heard through the mayhem.

‘You’ll pay for this, you bastard.’

‘Says who? Says you? I don’t think so, Mr Harris. The game is only just beginning. I have everything I need now. The world you know will end tomorrow.’

And Harris is about to reply when he hears the roar of a motorbike immediately to his right. In a single, instinctive movement, he ducks, dives to one side, and draws his silenced pistol and fires. One shot, straight through the visor, right between the eyes. The dead driver loses control and the bike skids across the city square, sending up showers of sparks.

When Harris looks around for Spencer, he’s nowhere to be seen.

Welcome to Calderstone.

My name’s Roger Heath. I’ve lived here for nigh on thirty years now. I jacked in my job as an accountant and became landlord of the Man in the Moon pub here in the town, and I’ve never looked back. Sure, it’s not the most exciting of places, but I’m happy here. It’s where I’ve loved and laughed the most. People tell me I’ve missed out by not broadening my horizons, but I don’t see it like that. Over the last three decades, Calderstone has been my constant. I’ve done my fair share of travelling over the years, but this is the place I always come back to. This is home. It’s where I met my wife. It’s where our kids were born and raised. It’s where I found my purpose.

Calderstone is a small seaside town about twenty-five miles along the coast road south of Folkestone. We’ve a population of just over three and a half thousand people at present. As other towns and cities have swollen and grown, here we’ve stayed reassuringly constant. It’s an idyllic place, a typical British coastal resort. It feels out of the way of everywhere else, unspoilt by progress, and I think that’s in no small part due to the fact we’re out on a limb, the only place of any note at the end of an A-road spur. Since they built the bypass a decade or so ago, the only reason people come here is if they’re coming here, know what I mean? Let me put it another way – Calderstone’s well off the beaten track, not the kind of place you just happen to pass through.

Despite its remoteness, our town has quite a rich and varied history. You’ll find plenty of references to it in the history books, all the way back to the first mention of the settlement of Calder in the Doomsday Book in 1086. A couple of famous stage actors were born here, and for a very short time in the late eighteen-hundreds, Calderstone became something of a cultural hotspot, its scenic coastal views immortalised by the popular artists of the day; writers, poets, and painters descending en masse.

The last twenty years have been relatively uneventful. They did Antiques Roadshow from on the beach front a while back, and there was an episode of a crime programme filmed here about five years ago, I can’t remember the name of it, not my kind of thing. It was the episode where the head chef of a hotel murdered his wife (the head receptionist) and her lover (the porter) and fed bits of them to the guests. I don’t know if you saw it? Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up. Nothing that exciting ever happens here, and that’s how we like it.

More recently, a local lad who’d been in a moderately successful band (Dean Something-or-other his name is – again, not my thing), tried to stage a charity concert up at the old school. The parish council put a stop to it, though. With the best will in the world, Calderstone was never going to be able to cope with a single sudden influx of visitors like that. He ended up doing the concert in a farmer’s field just outside Ashford. It was a good evening out, by all accounts, very well attended.

But the thing Calderstone remains most famous for are its World War II defences. It’s why a lot of tourists visit. Locally, we call them ‘The Grey Sisters’: two concrete fortresses lying about half a mile offshore. They were built to help defend the country from amphibious and aerial Nazi attacks but fell into disrepair after the war. There’s been a lot of activity around them recently, loads of boats and helicopters flitting about. Rumour has it they’ve been bought by some rich kid from London way. Don’t know what he’s planning to do with them. I’m not aware of any proposals being made to the council. It’s not the first time someone’s tried to redevelop them, and it won’t be the last. It always ends the same way when they run out of money or see sense. Hotels, houses, scientific research stations . . . over the years plenty of folk have tried and failed to bring the sisters back to life. If you want my opinion (and you’re going to get it whether you want it or not), I think they should be left well alone.

But what do I know?

‘You didn’t think you’d be racing around the country with me today, did you?’ Harris says to Gloria, with a wink and a grin.

‘After what I’ve seen of you these last twenty-four hours or so, John, nothing surprises me anymore.’

She holds onto the door as Harris swerves through the traffic. Thankfully there’s not too much else on the road with them, other than a van full of heavies in front, and another one immediately behind. The brutes might not know who Harris is, but they know what he’s here for. Their orders are to stop him getting to Calderstone because if he reaches the town, everything that Maximillian has been working towards – everything they’re working towards, everything they believe in – will all amount to nothing.

‘Things might be about to get a little hairy,’ Harris says.

Gloria continues to hold on for dear life. ‘This wasn’t what I signed up for when I joined the Foreign Office. I’m a civil servant, for Christ’s sake.’

‘You missing your desk, are you? Want me to drop you off somewhere?’

She hasn’t known him for long, but she’s already got used to his irreverence and humour. His reputation preceded him.

‘Not on your life,’ she says. ‘This is the most excitement I’ve had in years.’

But all the joking stops now because things are getting deadly serious. The road has narrowed, and the van that’s in front of them is slowing down. The driver’s moved his vehicle out into the middle of the lane, blocking Harris’ way through. And at the same time, the van that’s in pursuit is catching up fast.

Gloria glances over her shoulder. ‘They’re gaining, John.’

‘I know.’

‘You need to do something.’

‘I know!’ He checks the map on the SUV’s touchscreen display and spots an opportunity. The road they’re on is a grey, snake-like tarmac strip that carves through the undulating English countryside. Options are limited, but he thinks he can see a way out of this tight spot. ‘Hold tight,’ he tells her.

Gloria does exactly as he says.

This time last year, she’d only just joined the team.

This time last month, they’d only just made the intelligence breakthrough.

This time last week, they’d only just carried out the raid on Maximillian Sharp’s Hertfordshire mansion.

This time yesterday, she’d only just met the man on whom she’s now staking her professional reputation and, increasingly, her personal safety.

And as for this time tomorrow . . . well, if they can’t shake these fuckers and get to Calderstone in one piece, she doesn’t want to think about what her world might look like in the morning.


Harris is decelerating.

‘What’s wrong?’ Gloria asks, anxious.

‘Nothing’s wrong,’ he replies, not taking his eyes off the road. ‘Have faith. Everything’s just fine.’

‘We’re slowing down. Why are we slowing down?’

This time he doesn’t answer. He’s concentrating. Focused on timing this to perfection because he knows he’s only got one chance.

The SUV’s drop in speed has handed their pursuers an advantage they weren’t expecting. When the thug behind the wheel realises the vehicle in front is slowing, he speeds up. The van surges forward, almost making contact with the SUV’s rear bumper.

‘Harris!’ Gloria screams, because it’s not only the van behind that’s causing them problems, the one in front is too because its driver has also reduced his speed. They’re about to be boxed in, and they can’t afford to let that happen.

The van-SUV-van sandwich is still travelling at a heck of a rate, yet Harris remains unfazed. He’s watching the screen on the dash now, not the road rushing past. ‘Steady . . .’ he says under his breath. ‘Steady . . .’

The roads in this part of the UK weren’t designed for multi-vehicle high-speed pursuits. In peak season (and fortunately that’s still a couple of months away), they’re mostly clogged with holidaymakers – sensible cars driven by sensible owners, hauling their caravans towards the coast. Most inclines have been designed with those slow moving, bulky tin cans in mind. There are regular overtaking spots where slower vehicles can move out of the way to let those with more speed get through, and one of those spots is here.

Harris swings the SUV out into the passing lane, then he does the exact opposite of what everyone’s expecting. Instead of using the overtaking lane to speed up, he slams on the brake, lets both vans get ahead of him, then shifts down a gear before accelerating again. He tucks back into the slow lane, behind both of the vans now, ready to take the left turn that neither of the other drivers knew was coming. Before taking the turn, he fires his pistol and shoots out the driver’s side rear tyre of the nearest van. As the vehicle arcs out of control, he fires off a second shot with sniper-like precision, shooting the driver in the head.

The two vans collide. One of them clips the barrier in the middle of the road and flips before bursting into flames, the two wrecks blocking the carriageway in both directions. Other cars brake hard, but there are many collisions, and the road is immediately rendered completely impassable. To his disappointment, Agent Harris doesn’t have the pleasure of witnessing the devastation he’s caused, because the SUV has already disappeared down a country lane that’ll lead them through a couple of small villages before meandering back onto the A road they’ve just left.

It won’t be long before they get to Calderstone.

Thursday is market day.

Other than peak-holiday season weekends, it’s the busiest time of week for the town. The roads are shut from midday onwards as traders set up their stalls around the town square. Traffic’s not a problem, because this happens every week at this time and the locals are used to the diversion. You just turn off the main road at Pitmaston Avenue and follow it all the way around until you get up to the Spar supermarket. Simple.

You come out opposite Bill and Eileen Yates’ hardware store. I’m good friends with Bill and Eileen. Their business has had more than its fair share of ups and downs recently (more downs than ups, Eileen was saying the other day), but they’re just about managing to keep their heads above water. They know they can’t compete with the DIY superstores on the outskirts of Folkestone, so they don’t even try. They stock the essentials that they know people in the town are always going to need, and over the years they’ve also diversified, offering third-party services like key cutting, dry cleaning, transferring old home movies to DVD, things like that.

Bill and Eileen have a mutually beneficial arrangement with the owners of the two local campsites up the road, Long Field and Somers Farm. If people come looking for a place to stay, Bill and Eileen send them up to one of the sites. In return, if the campers are looking for gas or other stuff, the owners send them to the Yates’ place, and say nothing of the DIY stores (or the BP garage on the A-road that’ll sell folks all the same things at slightly lower prices). For me, that sums up how life in Calderstone works. We look after each other. We look after our own. It’s the kind of community you don’t hear about much anymore, and it should be protected. Celebrated.

To his credit, the lad with the money who owns the Grey Sisters seems to understand how things work here. Like I said, I don’t know if his plans are ever going to amount to anything, but there’s no disputing that he’s gone about things in the right way. His workers have spent a fortune in my pub this last two months. Honestly, it’s been like summer season come early. And they’ve helped the town’s folk in other ways too. Jobs are scarce around here, it must be said. He’s offered employment to a good number of the older youth of Calderstone who previously spent much of their time kicking around. It’s usually only labouring, driving, and security work, but it’s better than nothing. All in all, we’ve all benefited from what’s happening at the Grey Sisters, whatever that is, and long may it continue.

This afternoon I’m taking a break from serving behind the bar. The missus is covering, but there’s not much to do. We’re never much busy on market day because everyone’s out here in the town centre. Sandy’s happy to tend to the few regulars not out at market and read her book in the considerable downtime between serving them drinks. For me, it’s a once-a-week opportunity to get out and mingle with folk in the daylight.

I never get bored of seeing Calderstone bustling like this. It’s spring and the flowers are just beginning to bloom, my favourite time of year. The sun’s out, the sky is blue, and the place looks pretty as a postcard.

You can keep your cities. I’ll just visit them, never stay. Because my heart will be here in Calderstone until the day I die.

‘What do you mean, he’s almost there?’ Maximillian Spencer screams at the poor lackey who’s had to break the bad news. ‘They didn’t stop him on the road?’

The kid shakes his head, nervous. ‘Bruno called it in, boss. He said Harris shot Tommy. Phil and Kev are in a bad way too. The vans are write-offs. No one’s getting in or out along the A-road.’

‘Apart from Harris?’

‘He’s taking a back route, boss.’

‘You’ve got the chopper following him?’


‘But they haven’t taken him out?’

‘Not yet, sir, no.’

Spencer paces. He grips the rail on the edge of the roof of the southernmost of the Grey Sisters, the wind gusting relentlessly. He stares into the writhing waves below. Seriously, he asks himself, is there anyone else on this planet who isn’t a complete fucking idiot? The sooner he can get today done, the better.

He’s sick and tired of dealing with morons.

They just don’t understand.

None of them get it.

They don’t think in the same way he does.

They think he’s a megalomaniac, a madman. He knows they’re wrong. He’s a saviour.

If they stop him seeing his plan through today, everyone will suffer in the long term. Okay, so if he does manage it, billions of people are going to suffer anyway, but that’s a price that has to be paid. At least this will mean some people will survive. And yes, he’ll be one of them, but is that such a bad thing? He’s one of the few who are looking forward, looking further than the end of their noses, thinking about the fate of the planet and the entire human race, instead of just themselves.

Spencer knows that the planet is entering a death spiral, and he’s going to stop its terminal decline.

He has to do this.

His plan cannot be allowed to fail.

He’ll have all those deaths on his conscience, sure, but he knows the weight will be manageable because of all the good that’ll come from the bad. No more deforestation. No more mining for fossil fuels. No more autocrats or dictators. No more wars (not for a long time, at least). It’s a cross to bear, but the alternative is unthinkable. By launching his bioweapon today, he’s going to change the course of history. He’s going to give Planet Earth a future. One that’s not completely human free, but one that’ll even the balance. Even now as he stares into the waves, he remembers how the plan was sold to him. ‘Imagine a world,’ the scientist told him, ‘where there’s a fraction of the human population, but where our knowledge is intact. Imagine starting again – Medieval population numbers, but with twenty-first century abilities.

Another couple of hours, and the Re-genesis weapon will be primed and ready to go.

The kid’s still standing behind him, not knowing what he should do, whether he should do anything. Spencer puts him out of his misery.

‘Get my boat ready. I’ll go and deal with Harris myself.’

‘But sir . . .’

‘Just fucking do it.’

And the kid doesn’t argue because he saw what happened to the last foot-soldier who did.

Several miles outside Calderstone, the chopper swoops down. The pilot skims the tops of trees, then climbs over electricity cables before swooping down again. Below, Harris races along the narrow country lanes, hoping the twists and turns and the high hedgerows will give them enough cover. ‘I think I preferred it when it was only vans chasing us,’ Gloria says. Today has been a baptism of fire for her. It’s an adrenalin rush, sure, but the longer the chase goes on, the more terrifying it has become. She finds single lane roads like this a challenge at the best of times. Harris, though, remains unfazed. He drives like a rally champion, drifting and skidding and—

—and slamming on his brakes hard when the road ahead is suddenly blocked by a flock of sheep being herded across from a field on one side to the other.

He stops just short of the sheep. The farmer gives him a mouthful of abuse (as do the sheep), but Harris couldn’t give a damn because there are more pressing matters for him to deal with. Overhead, he knows that the gunman sitting next to the helicopter pilot will have the SUV in their sights. They’re sitting ducks while they’re stationary like this. Harris knows he has just seconds left to act.

The chop-chop-chop of the helicopter’s rotor blades fills the air, so loud and heavy they can feel it in their bellies. Gloria cranes her neck to look up, but the aircraft is directly above them now, temporarily invisible from their position on the road.

Harris puts the SUV in reverse and looks back, mapping the route of the winding road they just raced along. He would tell Gloria to hold on again, but he doesn’t have time. He’s been in positions like this many times before and no doubt will be again. He holds on for a fraction of a second longer – long enough to hear the subtle shift in the swirling helicopter sound that indicates to him they’re moving into position to fire – then holds a heartbeat longer still to allow the gunman to take aim before slamming his foot down hard and sending the SUV rocketing backwards.

They crash through a hedge and end up in a field, but that doesn’t matter. Harris wrenches the wheel around and keeps going. A streak of flame shoots down from the helicopter, and an RPG hits the part of the road where the SUV just was. There’s an enormous explosion: fire and smoke billow upwards, while chunks of tarmac and bloody lumps of sheep clatter down like hail. Being here in the field, behind the drifting chopper, also gives Harris his best chance at fighting back. He reaches over to the back seat, grabs the automatic rifle he stole from another heavy several scraps back, and lets rip a hail of bullets into the air. The bullets thud into the helicopter’s tail, puncturing a line of holes from the fin all along the fuselage. The two men on board are spared, but it’s only a temporary reprieve because already the aircraft is spinning, spinning, spinning, and it hits the ground with a blast that can be seen and heard for miles around.

Nonchalant, Harris drives on, nudging forward through what’s left of the sheep that got across, then driving through another gate and back onto the road to Calderstone.

Spencer’s motorboat docks at the private jetty he had installed at the end of the garden behind the country house he bought (under a false name). Several of his men are waiting for him. They’re on motorbikes. Spencer’s bike is there too, engine already ticking over, ready for the ride.

Spencer’s number two sits astride his bike, ready to lead the way. ‘Chopper’s down,’ he says, and Spencer’s so fucking angry he can’t fucking speak. How did one man get so far? He’s dangerously close to fucking up everything now.

‘We’ll find him and we’ll kill him,’ Spencer orders, and the pack of riders race inland to head the agent off before he can ruin everything.

There’s a band playing in the town square today. An impromptu performance. They’re students, I think, from the college in Folkestone. Quite folky. I like it. It’s nice background noise. Calming.

I’ve been chatting with Dorian from the butchers for longer than I realise. She’s a lovely girl, is Dorian. She’s good friends with Eileen, who’s just wandered down and joined us from her and Bill’s hardware store. She says Bill’s minding the shop, but we all know there’ll be no customers for the next few hours, and that Bill’s most likely asleep behind the counter with the cricket playing on the radio.

Dorian reckons there’s been some trouble on the road to Folkestone today. It’s the first I’ve heard about it. ‘Coming together between a couple of vans, they said,’ she tells us. ‘The police have got the area all closed off.’

‘I heard there were guns involved,’ says Michael Priest. And we all just laugh. He’s full of crap, is Michael. Always mucking around.

Michael takes umbrage.

‘I’m serious. There’s something happened out by the Newbery farm, too. Janice said she heard that there’s a helicopter come down or something.’

Hilarious. He says it all deadpan, too.

‘I’ll give you your due, you’re convincing,’ Eileen says, and she nudges Dorian. ‘Remember that time he had us all believing Jackie Myer’s hubbie had been kidnapped when he was just passed out drunk in Newbery’s barn?’

We’re all pissing ourselves laughing. Michael’s not.

‘I swear,’ he says. ‘There’s something big going on around here. Something to do with the bloke who bought the sisters, I heard. I think he’s gone and—’

We all stop talking.

Something’s coming.

On market day this part of the town’s usually quiet, so it’s easy to tell when something’s not right. There’s an engine coming this way, but I’m struggling to make out exactly what it is. Too loud for a car, too quiet for anything much bigger . . . I think someone’s got a problem. Sounds like that vehicle’s on its last legs.

‘They’re out of luck if they’re coming here looking for a garage,’ I say. ‘Murphy’s still away, isn’t he? They’ll be better off trying to get to Folkestone and hoping—’

There’s another noise now, a hundred times louder, coming from the other direction. I’m in the middle of the road looking down towards the coast, trying to work out what’s coming, when Michael and Dorian grab one of my arms each and pull me out of the way. Good job they did because there’s a whole army of bikers coming through. We had trouble with a load of Hell’s Angels the summer before last. This doesn’t look like them, though.

There are five of them. All on the same bikes, and they’re all wearing the same clobber, like some kind of uniform. Right in the middle of the bunch is one guy dressed different. He must be their leader.

‘That’s the rich kid who bought the Grey Sisters, I reckon,’ Eileen says, and I think she’s right. He’s not caused us a scrap of bother before, so what’s all this in aid of?

They’re driving far too fast. It’s dangerous. Half the town is out in the square this afternoon. I step back out into the middle of the road and try to flag them down.

I hear Dorian yelling at me.

‘Get out of the way, Rog!’

And I look around to tell her I know what I’m doing when there’s a—

Spencer’s lead biker clips the guy protesting in the road, and he spins away then drops to the kerb like a sack of potatoes, out cold but, luckily, not badly hurt. The rest of the riders swerve around his bulk, then form up at one end of the crowded town square. On one hand Spencer regrets that the place is so busy, but all of these people will likely be dead by the end of the day, so it’s no great shakes, really. If he’s honest, there’s only one person he’s really interested in killing, and that’s the fucker in the beaten-up wreck of a SUV that’s just appeared at the other end of the square. He orders his men to kill Harris, no matter what the cost.

The lead biker is already on his way, keen to prove his worth to the boss. He accelerates straight down the central strip of the road, sending pedestrians flying in all directions, silencing the folk group who, until now, had been bravely playing on. Dead ahead of him now, he can see the SUV, wheels spinning on the cobbled street, smoking as the engine strains for release. Behind the wheel, Harris stares him out – a deadly game of chicken. And as the bike gets closer, he draws his gun and fires.

The rider banks hard left, clipping a market stall and upending it. The pavement is filled with ornaments and trinkets which smash, crash, and clatter, yet the carnage goes unheard because of the tumult of engine noise that’s filling the air. The bike rider zigzags, dodging potshots that are being taken at him. Then, when he’s no more than a couple of metres away, Harris accelerates. The bike swerves to avoid impact. Harris anticipates and does a handbrake turn in the street, a full one-eighty, wiping out what’s left of the damaged market stall and crunching a musician’s abandoned lute under his wheels. He then accelerates again and drives straight into the back of the bike rider who’s passed him. It’s enough of a contact for the guy to lose control of the bike. He hits the kerb and is thrown over the handlebars at speed, straight into the window of a nearby hardware store. He crashes through the shattered glass before being impaled on the spikes of a garden fork.

Now unmanned, the bike skids along on its side, then explodes. The huge billow of flame engulfs several parked cars.

Two more bike riders are coming for the SUV now. They ride as a pair, filling the width of the street between them. The trick here is that both the men on bikes and Harris know that the two-to-one driver ratio will be the deciding factor whatever happens. Harris is forced to make a choice, and he rams one bike, shunting it into another market stall. The other rider swiftly changes direction, cutting around the back of the stalls and racing along the pavement behind them.

While Harris is disentangling the SUV from the wrecked motorbike, Gloria gets out and runs. It’s been a steep learning curve for her over the last couple of days, but she’s coped admirably. She has the agent’s automatic rifle, and, on foot, she goes after the bike being ridden along the pavement. The rider’s way through is blocked by the wide concrete steps outside the front of a shop, and the couple of seconds delay as he tries to squeeze the front wheel through is enough. Gloria takes a deep breath and squeezes the trigger, bringing the fucker down in a hail of bullets. The strength of the recoil catches her out and she peppers the window of the Post Office with lead.

Three bikers down.

Two to go.

The centre of the town is absolute chaos now. Several local residents have been caught up in the violence and the dead and the dying now lie alongside the injured. Further up the street, the hardware store owner is trying to put out the flames that are threatening to engulf his shop, but he’s fighting a losing battle. A few brave souls do what they can to help the fallen, but they do so knowing that they’re in the middle of a warzone. A woman tries to drag her husband to safety, but he’s been hit by one of the bikes and his right leg is badly broken. He screams in absolute agony as she hauls him away and his shattered ankle scrapes along the uneven cobbles. She drops him and ducks for cover as Harris in the SUV takes potshots at one of the remaining bikers. His aim is killer. He shoots the rider in the calf, and he’s thrown off the saddle, caught by his boot and trapped underneath the metal wreck. The agent then gets out of his car and runs across the road, before popping several more shots into the wounded man’s chest.

And then everything becomes quiet.

Quieter than it should be.

All engines silenced.

Harris surveys the devastation.

Where’s Spencer?

‘Looking for me?’ Spencer shouts to him. Harris turns around to see the evil bastard walking towards him. He has Gloria in a neck lock and is dragging her along. He has a pistol pressed hard against her temple.

‘I can’t let you do this, Spencer.’

‘And I can’t let this not be done.’

‘It’s madness . . .’

‘What, killing people to save the planet for tomorrow? Sacrificing billions of lives today to ensure the world’s still here for the billions more to come? It’s radical, sure, brilliant too, but I can assure you, it’s completely logical.’

‘Doesn’t human life have any value to you?’

‘What part of this don’t you understand? I value life above everything else. It’s just that I can see beyond today and tomorrow . . . I can look further into the future. If I don’t do this, there will only be a finite number of tomorrows left for any of us.’

‘Do you think you’re some kind of god?’

‘No . . . absolutely not. Far from it. I don’t believe in gods, you should know that by now. I believe in absolutes. I believe in facts.’

Gloria thrashes and squirms, trying to get away. He tightens his grip.

‘Let her go,’ Harris says. ‘She’s an innocent party.’

Spencer gestures around at the chaos of ruined Calderstone. ‘Same’s true of everyone here. We’ve all got to go someday . . .’

‘But not today, eh?’

Spencer shoots. A single shot to the head. He drops Gloria’s lifeless body at his feet.

Harris rushes at him, but before he can get anywhere near, another man forces himself between the two of them. He blindsides Spencer and rips the weapon from his hand. Both Harris and Spencer have been so focused on each other that the man has them at an advantage. They find themselves pressed up against the wall of Calderstone’s bullet strewn post office, unable to get away.

‘Enough!’ I yell at the pair of them. ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’

The suave one in the jacket, he’s some kind of secret agent, I reckon. Looks the part, that’s for sure. ‘Put the gun down, there’s a good chap,’ he says to me. Patronising bastard. I shoot him in the hip. That’ll shut him up.

‘Now listen, this is how it’s going to go down,’ I tell them both. ‘I’ll ask the questions, you’ll give me answers.’

‘You don’t know what you’re messing with,’ the rich kid says. I thought it was him. Money don’t buy brains, that’s what my mother used to say, and by God, she was right. I shoot him through the shoulder. Now I’ve got the two of them where I want them. It’s not like in the movies where they get shot but miraculously keep going.

‘Nice one, Roger,’ I hear someone shout from behind me.

I look around, and it’s like the whole of the town are backing me up, literally and figuratively. Those who are still alive and in one piece, that is.

‘What the hell’s going on?’ Dorian demands. I point the gun at the secret agent’s face.

‘Answer the lady.’

‘This psychopath is going to destroy the world,’ he says, and it’s all I can do not to laugh.

‘It’s true, but I’m not a psychopath,’ the other one says, wincing with pain, grizzling like a baby.

‘You both seem like psychopaths to me if I’m honest. Look what you’ve done to my town. We’ve got people wounded, people dead, buildings on fire . . . what’s it all for?’

‘If he gets away with his plan, billions of people will die,’ says the agent.

‘And if he stops me,’ the rich kid says, ‘then billions of people will die anyway. Eventually. The planet can’t sustain this level of abuse indefinitely.’

And I just look at the pair of them.

‘Do you think the people here care about any of that? We’ve all seen movies like this . . . People like you two think you’re all that matters, don’t you? But you’re not. It’s people like us that keep this world going, people like us in towns like Calderstone. You know, I’ve seen most of the Bond films and Indiana Jones and whatever, and I’ve always wondered what happens to the poor folk in the background who get caught in the crossfire of those at the front of the story, and now I know. Nothing happens. People like us are forced to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess while folk like you bugger off and find somewhere else to do more damage. You’ve come here today, and you’ve wrecked our town. People have died. You’ve set fire to half the town, killed more than a fair few sheep, ruined today’s market . . . and for what?’

‘You don’t understand . . . you can’t be expected to,’ the agent says, patronising me again. ‘What’s happening here is bigger than you. It’s bigger than Calderstone.’

‘In my world, nothing’s bigger than Calderstone.’

And that comment, to my surprise and delight, gets a cheer from the good folk behind.

I’m on a roll now.

‘So, tell me,’ I ask them both, ‘assuming this is it and neither of you two leave here today, what happens tomorrow?’

They look at each other. The agent shrugs.

I look at the rich kid. ‘This plan of yours . . . if you’re not around, it doesn’t happen?’

‘No,’ he admits. ‘It’s all set up over on the Grey Sisters, but until I can get there and trigger the process, nothing’s going to happen.’

‘And how do you trigger the process, exactly? A password or something?’

I figure he’ll tell me that much because he wants his plan to succeed.

‘Biometrics. Retina scan.’

‘So, without you, it’s going nowhere.’

He nods.

I look around to ask the other townsfolk what they think. I can tell from most of their faces that they’re thinking along the same lines as me.

So, I shoot the pair of them dead.

It’s five years to the day since all that fuss and palaver with the secret agent and the master villain on market day. It’s mostly forgotten about now. The dead have been mourned, injuries have healed, repairs have been made. It’s not something we celebrate (there are still too many of us carrying the mental and physical scars), but it is something that we mark.

Calderstone is still here. And I’m still here. And though the rest of the world may still have its problems, here in our quiet little town they don’t seem to matter so much. In our town, matters of global security come a distant second in comparison to matters of local importance.

Thanks for reading

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